An envelope full of heart

My box of stationery and notecards, kept within easy reach.

My box of stationery and note cards.

I pick out a pretty piece of stationery, gather a few extra sheets of paper, and find a favorite pen.

The words flow naturally from my fingertips, through the pen, spilling onto the paper.

“Dear Kim . . .”

I’ve written those words for almost 10 years now – words to an old friend from high school. Before our senior year, I moved away, and we’ve kept in touch with letters.

Handwritten letters have held us together.

Looking back, there’s always been at least one person with whom I’ve exchanged letters.

As a child, I wrote “Dear Kyle . . .” before placing a few fun items, like pencils or erasers or gum, inside a plastic fish. (That’s right, a plastic fish — it made for some fun mail!)

As a teenager, I corresponded with one of my cousins: “Dear Anna . . . ”

Time passes, people move to and fro, and there are more names to add to the list.

“Dear Liz . . .”

“Dear Alicia . . .”

“Dear Makenna . . .”

The first word says it all, really: “Dear.”

Dear. 

My friend, you are dear to me. We are dear to each other. And that is why we write.

We’ve written a lot over the years. I have a box full of handwritten notes I’ve kept – and that’s not even all of them. They came on different kinds of paper in different sizes of envelopes from different zip codes.

A box of letters – my treasure box.

A box of letters – my treasure box.

We could fill novels with those letters.

And yet, we rarely see each other. Most of the people with whom I exchange letters are those I haven’t seen for the longest time. It’s been 2, 3, even 4 years. And with most of them, letters are our primary way of communicating.

We talk on the phone or Skype once a year, maybe twice, if a lot has happened. We might text once in a while, just for fun. We rarely use Facebook with each other — some of my close friends aren’t even on Facebook.

And yet, we’re close.

You don’t have to live close to be close. And you don’t have talk all the time to know each other’s hearts.

In precious letters, my friends and I share things we’d never dream of posting on Facebook. Things the world doesn’t need to know. Things that are too big to be summed up in a few hastily typed words.

We don’t know each other’s daily activities — I couldn’t tell you what some of my friends ate for dinner, which movie they just saw five minutes ago, or which character some Internet quiz says they are most like.

But we do know each other’s deepest struggles and greatest joys.

And we know them because we’ve chosen to share them, one-on-one, with each other.

When I hold a handwritten letter, it feels as if I’ve been given a piece of someone else’s heart. Someone else has taken the time to choose her words, for my eyes only. She has written them down, sealed them up, and sent them to me.

When I open that envelope full of words and pull out those lovingly penned pages, I don’t want to just read it quickly and send a fast reply. I want to savor it, like the treat that it is, and read over each word carefully. I want to take my time in crafting a response.

But it’s more than words that get sent in the mail. When we take the time to write to each other, and write authentically, it’s like entrusting little bits and pieces of our hearts with those we know will protect them.

Certainly, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are fun, but one letter that shows up in my mailbox is worth more than 1,000 “likes” or comments. If I had to choose, I’d rather have five friends with whom I write letters than 500 Facebook friends.

And sure, I enjoy the convenience of technology, but there’s something about a handwritten letter that no technology will ever be able to replace. There’s an intimacy. An authenticity. A tangibility.

And what history we have in letters! In my letter box, I have mini-histories of friendships that show they have blossomed over time. Letters of great historical figures give us a glimpse into people’s lives outside of the public’s eyes.

And think of the Bible — several books of the New Testament were originally written as letters, shared across the miles to teach people and build them up in Christ’s love. I love reading the greetings at the beginning of Paul’s letters, like this one, in Philippians 1:1-5:

“Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and ministers: grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now.”

What an incredible letter that is! (And not just the beginning, but the whole book — I love Philippians.) On a larger scale, I’ve heard the Bible referred to as God’s letter to all of us. Truly, what a gift.

Thinking about all the people who have written letters throughout history inspires me to write more — and to write more meaningfully. The intimacy of letters makes them the perfect place to share our hopes and our fears, to provide encouragement for each other, and to remind each other not to give up.

As long as there is a postal service, I will write letters. My friends will send me little pieces of their hearts, and I will write back, sharing mine, because my friends — my friends are dear to me. We are dear to each other. And so we write, “Dear friend . . . ”

When was the last time you wrote a letter – the old-fashioned kind you drop in the mailbox? I challenge you – find some paper and a pen, and write one. Even if you don’t get a reply right away, I guarantee that you’ll brighten someone’s day. 

Why being a “goody goody” is a really good thing

I felt a sharp twinge of pain as her words cut into me: “You’re such a goody-goody.” 

I didn’t know how to respond.

It was the first day of eighth-grade yearbook class. It was also my first time back in public school since second grade – for most of my life, I had been home schooled.

The official class business was over, so we were all just sitting around and talking. A few of the other students grilled me: Had I ever kissed a boy? Had sex? Smoked a cigarette? Drank alcohol? Stolen?

My answer to everything was a solid “No.” I was only 13, for goodness’ sake! Sure, I dreamed of sharing a kiss with my own prince charming someday, but most of the things they asked about were things I’d never even thought about doing!

Finally, after all my “no’s,” one of the girls made the goody-goody comment.

I didn’t know why they had singled me out, and I wasn’t used to their condescending attitudes – none of my friends were that way, and my family certainly wasn’t.

It hurt. Those words cut deep.

After school, as I waited for my mom to pick me up, I saw one of my friends walking out of the building – what a relief it was to see her! We’d grown up doing church activities together, and I knew she would understand.

Angry, sad, and uncertain, I told her about the whole conversation.

I don’t remember her exact words, but I remember her overall message. She said I shouldn’t let those people get to me. And besides, wasn’t it actually a good thing to be a goody-goody? It was much better to have a reputation for living a wholesome life than to have a bad reputation for getting into trouble.

And the more I thought about it, she was right – I shouldn’t be ashamed of being “good.” Being good was, well, a good thing.

The teasing about my “goodness” continued. I even got a nickname: “Pleasantville.” But eventually, I stopped feeling offended – especially when I realized that the people in that group weren’t the kind of people I wanted for friends, anyway. These classmates didn’t understand me, but my true friends did, and they were the people who really mattered.

Fast forward to college. I went to a Christian university and was surrounded by encouraging friends with similar values. But it seems there was something about me that was just a little different.

I don’t remember who the first person was to say it, or what the situation was, but I remember being surprised to hear it: “You’re so innocent.”

I was “so innocent?” Now what was that supposed to mean?

Perhaps it was the fact that I didn’t understand the dirty double-meanings some words had, or the fact that I never used swear words. I never did quite figure it out. But whatever it was, I grew used to hearing it a lot from my circle of friends.

People used to joke about trying to “corrupt” me – or, on the other hand, would remind each other, “Don’t corrupt Kellie!”

The people saying those things were my friends: We loved and respected each other deeply, and I knew they were just teasing. There was something kind of fun about being “Kellie the Innocent.”

But other times, it irritated me. The way people said it, “so innocent,” sometimes made me feel as if I were less of a person – as if I were completely clueless about life. But that wasn’t the case at all. I had my fair share of knowledge. I just chose to talk, act, and live a certain way, that was all. And as for “corrupting me,” I appreciated the thought, but I could take care of myself.

But looking back, I can see something else beneath those phrases: a hint of admiration, as if I had something precious.

Fast forward to today, and not much has changed. When I moved to a new state after college, guess what came with me: My reputation.

My younger sister has experienced the same thing. “So sweet,” “pure,” “innocent,” “wholesome” – between the two of us, we’ve gotten all of them, and more, almost everywhere we go.

I admit, at times, it can be frustrating, because it feels like people are saying, “You don’t quite fit in with the rest of us.” 

But in those moments, we have to stop and ask ourselves: Just what are we trying to fit in with? 

And really … why should it matter?

Perhaps you’ve felt this way. Maybe you’ve had people pressure you to do things you don’t want to do. Maybe you’ve had people make fun of you because you haven’t done certain things. Maybe you just feel a little different.

But who would you rather be: The girl who has to change herself in order to fit in, or the girl who is confident enough in herself to be who she wants to be? The girl who is just one of the crowd, or the girl who is respected because she clings to her values?

To everyone who’s been called a “goody goody,” or “innocent,” or anything else like that: It’s time to embrace who you are. Embrace your innocence. Hold on to it. Cling to it. And don’t ever let anyone talk you into letting go.

When you cling to who you are, people will be drawn to you not because you’re like them, but because you are you. You’ll find other people like you – other people who share your standards, your mindset. You’ll find people like my friend in eighth grade, who reminded me that really, being called out for being good is a good thing.

It’s good, because it’s the way God has called us to be, as His beloved children:

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Philippians 4:8

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a good way to live to me. Won’t you join me?

P.S. In my yearbook, there’s a note from one of those girls in my yearbook class. “Hey Pleasantville! You’re sweet. Don’t ever change.”

Don’t worry, girl – I haven’t. And I won’t. And I’m glad.

If you’d like to learn more about this new blog project, you can find out more here. Thanks for visiting, and I hope you’ll come back next week!